Everything In Its Wrong Place
The stifling closeness wouldn’t go away. I felt it most at night: darkness and cold, breathless and clammy. Parts of my scalp burned, and I rubbed the ends of my fingers into open sores.
After two weeks, I hitched up the wagon and rode into town, hoping the horse could guide me through my almost constant fit. He shone a light into my eyes and took my pulse – a few ticks slower than normal – and my temperature – a point lower than normal, but he could find nothing else wrong with me. He leaned back in his wooden chair and studied me through those Ben Franklin glasses stuck to the bridge of his nose.
“What’s been happening in your life, Annie?”
“My sister died. Two weeks ago. Apparently, she drowned in the creek while washing Harlan’s work shirts. I found her.”
“Well, that’s enough upset to make the best of us unwell.”
“But, that isn’t it, Doc. I -”
I straightened my skirt and groped my way to the window. Through the odd rays of light, I wondered how to tell Doc the truth.
“What is it, Annie?”
I couldn’t face him when I said it. “It’s my fault this is happening to me. Right before we sealed her casket, I know she squeezed my hand.”
This is my re-imagining of a story I heard in my childhood about a woman who was buried alive. It was such a common fear that safety coffins were invented in the late 1700′s. Outfitted with windows, bells and other mechanisms, these shrouds enabled the not-quite-dead to escape, often with the help of cemetery watchers, people employed to assist in freeing them.
I’ve always wondered whether my childish imaginings of this tale led to my fear of complete darkness.
The conclusion of a fiction series to explore a phobia. Read the introductory installment here, the second installment here, the third installment here, the fourth installment here and the fifth installment here.